"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What Does "Education For All" Really Mean?

Simply because someone has the perception that schools in their neighborhood are doing great does not necessarily hold water. It is the preponderance of subjectivity that makes it necessary to embrace common standards. There must be objective measures that go beyond our opinions. Take, for instance, the results of a Gallup Poll in 2010 that shows parents in the United States are overwhelmingly happy with the schools their children attend but generally unhappy with schools nationwide:


Looking at the graph, it does appear inconsistent that 77 percent of parents rate their schools as good while nationwide the same parents think only 18 percent pass that mark. Thus, being a resident of Fairfax county, my perception of how good schools are in my district needs to be backed by evidence. Just reading that the school my children attend says that their mission is "to ensure high levels of learning for all" is not enough. The school must actually make good on its promise. How can one tell? Whether we like it or not, this is where standardized measures play quite an important role.

Here are some measures that are useful:
  • The two-year persistence rate in college of high school graduates from Fairfax county averages 93% in the past ten years (The national average is 78%).
  • In 2011-2012, the on-time graduate rate in high school is 91% (The rate in the entire state of Virginia is 82% and the national average is 79%).
  • 62 percent of graduates from Fairfax county obtained an advanced studies diploma in 2014 (The state average is 51%).
Since ten high schools in Fairfax county participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012, comparisons can be made. Fairfax county scores are well above the average scores of students in the US. And the scores are similar to the top ranking countries:

CountryReading
Mean
Math
Mean
Science
Mean
Shanghai-China   556600575
Hong Kong-China 533555549
Finland       536541554
Singapore526562542
Korea539546538
Fairfax County 530540537
Japan520529539
Canada524527529
New Zealand521519532
Chinese Taipei 495543520
Netherlands508526522
Australia                    515514527
Liechtenstein499536520
Switzerland 501534517
Estonia501512528
Germany 497513520
Belgium506515507
Macao-China487525511
Poland500495508
Iceland500507496
Norway503498500
United Kingdom 494492514
Denmark495503499
Slovenia 483501512
Ireland496487508
France496497498
OECD Average493496501
United States 500487502
Hungary494490503
Sweden 497494495





The numbers above are average scores. It may tell something about the education of children in Fairfax county, but it does not provide the real score on "education for all". On the other hand, the state of Virginia administers Standards of Learning (SOL) tests:
SOL tests in reading, writing, mathematics, science and history/social science measure the success of students in meeting the Board of Education’s expectations for learning and achievement. All items on SOL tests are reviewed by Virginia classroom teachers for accuracy and fairness and teachers also assist the state Board of Education in setting proficiency standards for the tests.
Here, the reports that are made public are not the average scores, but the percentage of students passing the exam. This number is therefore more in line with gauging "education for all". For example, here are the numbers for Mason Crest elementary school for third grade:

Above tables copied from GreatSchools
90%, 86% and 96% passing rates in the subject tested are of course not 100%, but these numbers are impressive especially when compared to the state averages of 72%, 65% and 84%, respectively. The above are the scores from last year's test. This year, the passing rates for Grade 3 students are 79% in Reading, 75% in Mathematics, 94% in Science, and 96% in History and Social Science. All of these numbers are better than the average passing rates for the district and the entire state of Virginia. The state average passing rates for grade 3 students in 2014 are 69% in Reading, 67% in Mathematics, 83% in Science, and 86% in History and Social Science. The average passing rates for the Fairfax County School District for 2014 are 74% in Reading, 70% in Mathematics, 88% in Science, and 90% in History and Social Science. Schools in Virginia begin to administer the SOL exam in third grade. My son, who is now in third grade, would be taking these exams for the first time next year.

Mason Crest Elementary School, like other public schools, is not selective in its enrollment. In fact, based on the “Developmental Reading Assessment, Edition 2, Word Analysis” (DRA2 WA), 25 percent of kindergarten pupils at Mason Crest are referred to an Early Intervention Reading Initiative program. The state average for this assessment is 16%. Thus, Mason Crest actually starts right at the beginning with a major challenge. Mason Crest likewise has to address achievement gaps (socio-economic status and ethnicity):

Copied from Virginia's Department of Education School Report Card for Mason Crest Elementary School
Thus, if I say that Mason Crest Elementary School is a school that is true to its mission - I am saying that with evidence....




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